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Sonoma State University rolls out ban on smoking, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes

Seniors Chace Hart, left, and Colton Deck smoke electronic cigarettes during a break from class in a parking lot on the Sonoma State University campus in Rohnert Park , California on Monday, February 2, 2015. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

DEREK MOORE, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Lahna Yocom puffed on a cigarette Monday outside the art department at Sonoma State University, sitting on wooden platform that extended over the shore of a pond where ducks paddled lazily about.

The setting offered the art student an opportunity for introspection. However, Yocom’s habit is at odds with the expanding restrictions that now curb smoking in many public places, including university grounds.

SSU has become the second campus in the California State University system to ban smoking and related products, including smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes that vaporize nicotine and other substances. The policy was announced Friday by Dan Condron, vice president for university affairs, in an email sent to students, faculty and staff.

Yocom on Monday said she read the email. But she lit up anyway in defiance of the new rules.

“You should be able to smoke everywhere. But you should be conscientious of people around you,” she said.

Under the new policy, smoking is limited to campus parking lots through July 1. After that date, smoking will be banned entirely at SSU, including at off-campus sites under university ownership or control, and in vehicles owned, leased, or rented by the university.

Several students on Monday applauded the ban, saying it will relieve them of the annoying smell and health-hazards associated with second-hand smoke.

“I love it,” first-year student Alyssa Stringfellow said. “I hate walking to class and walking behind a trail of smoke. It’s disgusting.”

Outside his on-campus suite, Joe Letosky described smoking as “gross” and said the danger of second-hand smoke is a “real thing.”

Prior to the ban, smoking was allowed on campus except within 20 feet of hallways, doorways and breezeways. Several metal receptacles outside student housing on Monday were still filled with discarded cigarette butts.

Susan Kashack, a university spokeswoman, said the smoking ban came together in consultation with student health advisors. She said all nine unions representing university faculty and staff also signed off on the new policy.

“We’ve been thinking about it and talking about it for years with our health advisory groups,” Kashack said. “It just kind of came together now with the various parties.”

CSU Fullerton banned smoking in 2013, and San Jose State University is working on a similar policy to take effect this summer. More than 1,500 colleges and universities nationally have implemented smoke-free policies on campus, including 27 in California, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.

Santa Rosa Junior College also was designated a smoke-free campus in 2009. Students who are caught smoking there or within 20 feet of campus can be issued citations and fined.

SSU’s smoking ban does not include fines for violators. Instead, it states that violators “should expect to be approached and reminded of their obligation to comply with this policy.”

“What we are talking about are conversations,” Kashack said. “It’s not like anyone is likely to say, ‘I am going to ignore this,’ and continue to smoke.”

However, there was confusion on campus Monday over what is covered by the ban. The email sent out by the university Friday described the campus transitioning to a “smoke-free” environment and the removal of ashtrays as part of that policy. The email did not specifically mention e-cigarettes, vaping or smokeless tobacco. However, the notice included a link to the university’s new policy, which states that those activities are included in the ban.

Chace Hart, a senior studying English at SSU, said he was unsure after reading the email whether the ban applied to e-cigarettes. He and a friend, Colton Deck, puffed on their “vape pens” in a student parking lot Monday while taking a break from a computer lab.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporize a liquid usually made up of propylene glycol, nicotine and flavoring.

Hart said on occasion he even smokes in class, inhaling and then holding his breath for as long as he can to cut down on the exhaled vapor. Deck said e-cigarettes helped him kick a pack-a-day cigarette smoking habit.

But both men said they were resigned to the ban if that’s what the university has decreed. Deck said he understood how some people are offended by smoke blowing around them, which is why he said he doesn’t do it.

“I’m not a scumbag, but I have a problem right now,” he said of his e-cigarette habit.

Biology professor Nick Geist also expressed confusion over the university’s new rules. He said the vape pen he clutched in his hand helped him quit smoking cigarettes. But he, too, seemed resigned to not being able to use it on campus.

“I’m OK with that,” he said. “For years, I smoked here. I can’t justify it. It’s hard to quit, which is why I went to this.”

Kashack said the policy linked to in the email sent Friday should have alerted people to what is covered by the university’s ban. But she acknowledged the need to educate people more prior to the ban’s full implementation in July.

“We have a couple of months to clarify things for people,” she said.

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Editor’s note

A previous version of this story contained an inaccurate description of Sonoma State University student Lahna Yocum’s smoking break outside the art department on campus.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.